Dread-based self-constructions after the “dub wars”

Juakali is well-known for his activities as event-manager and host for the “Dub War (NYC)-events” who pioneered the London-based Dubstep-thing in New York and later North America since 2005. But before “Dubstep” ate up himself as host, manager and artist too, he escaped from New York to the Westcoast to start music on his own ideas. This is my interpretation about the long last of his first longplayer “dreadbass soundsystem” – but Juakali told me not only this question otherwise as you can read in this following interview..

Hey Jua, compliments on your first long play release “dreadbass soundsystem”. All the people who know you till now will get surprised with your release. They know you as dubstep activist in NYC, as MC playing with friendly magician images – it seems we meet you now inna transformation to conscious dancehall styling.

Well, most people know me from my MC/featured work with the dubstep genre however, my long time supporters are familiar with the breath of my talent within reggae, dancehall, electronic and more recently soca. People’s expectations may be all over the map, but when listening to this LP they will know it’s me.

Yours is also your actual video “dem city” in this great “Nate Mars Remix” on YouTube in December 2010 – just half a year before your new LP. Video and mix are both awesome, with ingredients we know by you till then – some surrealistic appeals in presentation as lyrics, musically close to dubstep- as dub-styles.

Dem City (Mars Remix) off my “Come from Yard” EP is stylistically different from my prior releases; however I believe it shows my commitment to electronic music meets dancehall lyrics which seem to have also registered with you. It’s not a crazy wild tune either and it sparked a conversation about a visual representation of the song which became the music video – the 2nd video I have coproduced. All that occurred in 2009. As far my debut album goes, I had it in my mind that I wanted to present the record with a live band. It is very organic and loose, allowing for small deviations with the music without losing the attack and vibe of the record. As a result the palette is more universal – familiar. This is not to say that some of my prior recordings do not have this emphasis, a few of them do, but they are perceived as a collection of singles over the years versus an LP.

The clips of all different stylings on “dreadbass soundsystem” seem to be the lyrics, colouring some different private and public sides of you as Juakali.

Yeah, while writing and recording this album I was going through a lot of relationship and personal turmoil whereby I was questioning the quality of my character and my resolve as a human being. In-short, I pushed lyrics and images signifying the kind of man I wanted to be. I am a visual learner; I imagined my existence and made it so.

My favourite song of the album is "this life”, connecting some formerly types of your music with a brilliant vocoder part.

“This Life” was the birth of a new sensibility for me; a new style of delivery that facilitates experimentation on a performative level and communicative stimuli for the listener. Not to mention the explosion of imagery. It’s a lot like lyric poetry playing with the subjective and objective voice.

Living an open-minded life, with fun as responsibility both seem to be the message of “dreadbass soundsystem”. Your friend Kode9 ´s new LP “black sun” leads into another direction: Power and prostitution are leading our societies to helplessness. A dark as great work – in it´s politically as musically appeal!

Big Up Kode9 and The Spaceape! I’ve always wanted to complete a dark ominous work, but it’s not what I wanted to produce at the time. This album is a lot like dawn pushing into midday. It’s real, current and personal with spirit and endurance.

Your track “crows” led into this direction! Released on “unit of resistance” of Raz Mesinai´s Badawi – it lets you too into a BBC recording for a Mary Anne Hobbs show.

“Crows” is one song from 3…4 years ago. The BBC feature with Mary Anne was four years ago. In a lot of ways dark songs like that remind those who have followed the genre of a different time. I’m not saying that those dark songs can’t exist now, I just feel folks misunderstand ‘dark’ to means without. ‘Dark’ for me resonates more as a primal call. The tone of my voice changes on those tracks. On my last EP “Freak You Back” the title track is also dark, registering differently from “crows”, but will work splendidly together on an LP.

What`s to tell us now retrospective about your experiences with Dubstep?

Dubstep was my first creative outlet as a fulltime recording artist. I was fully engrossed at a time when you rarely heard any vocals on the tunes. It has afforded me some notoriety as being one of the first American MCs to host and toast on its pulsating riddims and still allows for bookings around the world. My only issue is, as a dubstep MC; by and large you are not considered a recording artist by anyone. From the beginning of my involvement with the genre I have broken this stereotype, although some may still argue about my prowess. Coupled with this are many of my contemporaries in music who do not actively share my vision, my skill-set as a performer or approach the professional side of things in the way I do. I can’t help that, so I’ve focused on establishing myself as an artist in my own right, first with the label and now with this LP. There are folks that keep me on the radar though, for example I co-headlined one of Low End Theory’s nights with Flying Lotus, Groundislava and Herobust – all producer/Djs. I performed with a background vocalist and an electronic drummer/programmer. Low End doesn’t book live acts, but they were with it… they are into what I’m accomplishing.

It seems you have changed from a musical activist as you were into a MC with a variety of riddims touched by dub and dubstep influences – open for any experiences in the future.

Definitely open. I’m in a position to receive very dynamic and interesting music from producers as well as push a few to get out of their comfort zone. So naturally I find myself experimenting a lot. I’ve aiming for influence versus being the flavour of the month, so there are no boundaries.

Are your experiences in making music with musicians as producers in the west coast different to your experiences in New York?

My exchange with producers hasn’t changed much since moving to LA in 2008, my network is very international. If anything, I’m different. I’ve become a lot more patient and efficient with the creative and recording process.

You play some gigs in Europe this summer - how can we imagine your program?

Some MC gigs, a few live ones where I sing my songs; all backed by a DJ.

As you are born in Trinidad & Tobago: Do you have friends and fan public over there? Do you have both passes, an US- and a Trinidad & Tobago pass?

I became a US citizen two years ago after being a permanent resident since 1994 and now have what is known as dual citizenship. I have a few friends and fans in T&T who fully support all I’ve been up to over the years. I dream of performing for them in Port-of-Spain one day.

Interview: Bernhard Groha (8/2011)

Juakali live in Europe 2011:
25 August Prague - Cross Club with Dub Turbulence and Dub Liberation Front, 27 August Bratislava - Reggae Uprising with Royal Hi-Fi, 04 Sept. Pula, Kroatia – Fort Punta Christo – Outlook Festival Tectonic Boat Ride

LP Dreadbass Soundsystem (Foreign Familiar 2011)
EPS Breakground (Foreign Familiar/ Gunjah 2008)
Come From Yard (Foreign Familiar 2009)
Smoke Clears (Foreign Familiar 2010)
Freak You Back (Foreign Familiar 2011)
Run Babylon (with Babylon Station and Brother Come) (Gunjah 2005)
Everyday (with Babylon Station) (Gunjah, 2007)
Revolution Now (2009) Reasons / with 12th planet, doctor p remix (2010) first dubstep video played on US-MTV Dem City / nate mars remix (2010) Tha Chillski (2011)
C contributions & cooperations:
Juakali has worked on different tracks with Alpha & Omega, Babylon Station, Dub Gabriel, Kush Arora, Lutan Fyah, Moldy, Ras Mesinai´s Badawi, Sir Larsie I, Stagga, Syncro & Yellowtail and others till now.
The Wikipedia entry of Juakali features many links leading you forward: en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Juakali